Banksy's view of Brexit is on the wall

The mural by Banksy depicts a man chipping away at one of the 12 stars of the European Union flag.
The mural by Banksy depicts a man chipping away at one of the 12 stars of the European Union flag. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON • The three-storey mural showing a workman chipping away at one of the 12 stars of the European Union flag appeared mysteriously in Dover, England, over the weekend, at once banal and symbolically poignant.

Before the paint had dried, social media was swirling with the well- trodden guessing game as to whether the intricate stencilled imagery belonged to Banksy, the enigmatic and anonymous guerilla street artist whose work has graced walls from Britain to the West Bank.

The mystery was solved when Banksy posted photographs of the work on the artist's official Instagram feed on Sunday, perhaps timed to coincide with the French presidential vote - which, as it turned out, the young and ardently pro-European Union former investment banker Emmanuel Macron won decisively.

The election solidified France's place at the centre of the European Union and highlighted Britain's position on the outside looking in.

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The timing and location of the installation infused it with resonance. Britons will vote next month in a general election that Prime Minister Theresa May has justified on the grounds that it will buttress her negotiating position ahead of tortuous negotiations to leave the European Union, known as Brexit.

"They ought to make it the Brexit logo," a resident of Dover, where a majority voted to leave the bloc, told the website kentnews.co.uk. (The stars in the circle are intended to symbolise unity and do not refer to the number of member states.)

Others were less impressed. "Is it really Banksy?" Jan Honza Zicha wrote on Facebook. "I remember time when he was 'on to subject' before anyone else or at least part of the first liners. Unfortunately, this time, he is about 10 months too late and the art work is truly... well obvious and uninnovative."

But Mel Lloyd, an ecologist, lauded the strategic placement of the mural, on a building next to the A20, a main road not far from the Dover ferry terminal, one of the country's main gateways to Europe.

"Huge, fabulous, strategically placed new Banksyesque graffiti in Dover on A20," he wrote on Twitter. "Traffic leaving Dover Port will see this."

Banksy, whose zealous guarding of his identity helps maintain interest in his work, is no stranger to political art.

In 2015, he created several artworks at a ramshackle migrant camp in Calais, France, known as the Jungle, where thousands of people from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere lived while trying to find a way to reach Britain. One work showed Apple founder Steve Jobs, an apparent reminder that Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant.

Banksy attracted praise and ridicule two years ago after he unveiled a satirical exhibition called Dismaland in Weston-super- Mare in south-west England. The exhibition featured, among other things, mock security guards instructed to frown; a work showing a woman on a park bench being attacked by sea gulls; and a wreck of Cinderella's carriage, complete with Cinderella dangling lifelessly out of the carriage while surrounded by paparazzi, a work seemingly calculated to recall the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

More recently, the artist opened the Walled Off Hotel near the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank, offering rooms as well as what it claims is the "worst view in the world". The project has been praised for focusing attention on the plight of Palestinians, but it has also been castigated as "oppression tourism".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Banksy's view of Brexit is on the wall'. Print Edition | Subscribe